Need for New Approaches to Encourage Women to Join, and Stay in, Tech
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forced out. “Women of child-rearing age are more driven in many ways because they have mouths to feed, and children to live up to,” she says. “You’re really focused on goals.”
Intellect and a desire to succeed may be shared across genders, she says, but frankly some differences cannot be ignored. “Men and women aren’t equal in the sense that women push babies out,” Zaleski says. “There’s a major biological difference, and companies need to recognize that to retain more women.”
Having more mentors and investors willing to support female founders is another step towards creating balance, says Doreen Bloch, CEO of New York-based Poshly. She says Golden Seeds, which focuses on investing in female founders, helped her company evolve. “They were incredibly helpful to myself and my team,” Bloch says, particularly in refining the business model and finding a path to monetization. Poshly gathers anonymized consumer data on beauty products for insights that can be used by the industry.
Bloch says the experience of investors at Golden Seeds, especially managing director Marty Nealon, helped Poshly flourish. “She took me and our CTO under her wing,” Bloch says, “and mentored us around what revenue channels were going to be most compelling.”
Poshly is also an alumnus of L’Oréal’s Women in Digital program, which each year gives select female-led companies mentorship and a chance to test their technology with the cosmetic giant’s brands.
Even with such encouragement, Bloch wishes she had more coaching early on about being less shy when asking investors direct questions on the size of the checks they tend to write. “I hear that is common to female business people,” she says.
Further, Bloch says it was difficult early on to communicate to largely male investors the market opportunities Poshly was pursuing in the beauty sector. “Comparing it to the tech paradigms they know was a very helpful trick,” she says.
Being heard has been a challenge for other female founders. Beatrice Witzgall, CEO of LumiFi, which is based in New York, says she became an entrepreneur independent of any organization to encourage her. LumiFi developed an app that can control Wi-Fi-enabled LED light bulbs. Though Witzgall says she grew up in a male-oriented industry and may have been more prepared to deal with gender issues, it was not easy. “Often I felt like a lonely warrior,” she says. “I didn’t see there was a lot of support for female entrepreneurs.”
Witzgall says female entrepreneurs frequently are not taken as seriously as their male peers when speaking with investors or potential business partners—and that is a major hurdle. “If I have a meeting and say something, it has less of an impact as if my male counterpart says the same thing,” she says. “He is better received than I am.” However, Witzgall says there should be reasonable action in trying to bring gender balance to the tech scene. “You cannot tell investors they have to invest 50 percent of their money into female-operated business,” she says.
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